Space Opera With a Twist

Month: November 2016

Musical Memories

Since quitting the bowels of the demented bureaucracy, I’ve kept a bit of background noise, both at home and in my truck, by sticking to a pleasant, advertizing-free radio station. It not only keeps me amused but makes me thankful, during the morning and afternoon traffic reports, for no longer having to endure the foibles and stupidities of people who shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel.

Because of the political garbage permeating virtually everything in the last few weeks, I’ve switched my radio allegiance to a station broadcasting classical music instead of opinions, editorials, and other idiocies. It’s as much a matter of taste as it is a question of health. I quit the bureaucracy to escape a life dominated by high blood pressure and bathing in politics would only keep me popping pills that much longer. In the process, by listening to the soothing sounds of masterpieces from a past that didn’t exude the unpleasantness of Anno Domini 2016 (although it had unpleasantness of its own), I rediscovered a pair of gems that aren’t as well-known as they should be.

The first, a little melody deserving so much more recognition is called “Vltava” by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. It is better known by its Germanic name, “The Moldau.” The Vltava is the longest river in the Czech Republic and is commonly referred to as the Czech national river. I was first introduced to Smetana’s enchanting composition by my mother at a very young age and even now, almost five decades later, it still evokes unexpected emotions. One of the few memories I have of being a small child is asking my mother to play the Moldau. The last movement in particular still touches me in a way few musical pieces can.

The other piece, Ottorino Respighi’s symphonic poem “Pines of Rome,” is an understated musical gem that doesn’t get much airtime, so I was enchanted to hear it on the radio a few days ago. I can’t quite remember when or how I was first introduced to it, save that it hooked me immediately. I suppose having studied Roman history in large part through Edward Gibbon’s seminal work “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” gives it a greater significance in my eyes.

Listening to both compositions, I can easily visualize the influence Smetana and Respighi had on their modern musical descendants, in particular those creating soundtracks for the movies. They’re not the only ones, of course. Gustav Holst, for example, has inspired such great contemporary composers as John Williams of Star Wars fame, among many others, but if you listen carefully, you’ll find that the two underrated composers whose works I’ve rediscovered still resonate long after their deaths.

And no, my life hasn’t been all classical music or home renovations (though the workshop rebuild is finished!). My final revision of Howling Stars (Decker’s War Book 4) is almost complete, and publication is but a few day away.

The Magic of Hard Work

The basement annex rebuild is chugging along at high speed. The workshop walls have been repaneled with a nice pearl white beadboard that gives it a cheerful old-fashioned look, the baseboards are on, and today, I’ll start putting up the tongue and groove white pine ceiling planks. A couple of days work and I’ll be able to apply the finishing touches, i.e. the window and door casings, the crown molding, a lick of paint on the detail work and install new cabinets as well as a new door.

Once that’s done, all of the tools, supplies, etc. that are piled up in my ‘man cave’ will migrate back to a workshop that’s so much cleaner, brighter, safer and more inviting than it ever was. Once that’s done, I’ll tackle the laundry room, but probably not until January. At some point, I have to spend more time writing A Splash of Blood if I want it to see the light of day before the end of winter (the first draft is only a third done). Plus, I’ll be getting my editor’s comments back in a day or two, meaning whatever time I don’t spend renovating in the next two weeks will be spent finalizing Howling Stars (Decker’s War Book 4).  And no, I haven’t forgotten the fourth as of yet untitled Siobhan Dunmoore adventure. It’s stewing in the back of my subconscious.

Considering our house is over forty years old and ready for another renovation cycle, there’s enough work to keep me busy for a long time as I do one or two rooms a year. If nothing else, the physical work on top of my daily cardio routine at the gym is doing wonders for my health. I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in years, and I’m losing the extra pounds! Our next scuba diving trip should see me able to spend even more time under water thanks to my much improved physical fitness.

UPDATE – My nail gun is officially my favourite power tool.  154 sqft of tongue and groove planking on the ceiling completed in five hours.  I get to start on the finishing touches tomorrow.



They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

In Flanders Fields

The Perils of the Inner Critic

One of the downsides of being a sci-fi author, or any kind of writer really, is how critical we become. We’re so used to being harsh with our own creations, questioning ourselves, our creative decisions, plot lines, finding and fixing plot holes, etc., during the creative process that we end up doing it with the work of others, and it’s not really something we can control. I now get as thoroughly irritated by reading poorly edited prose in mass-market novels as I used to get watching a war movie filled with historical inaccuracies (spending a fair chunk of your adult life in the Army will do that!). I get equally irritated by watching movies where things don’t make sense, where the plot holes are big enough to fly a Death Star through and the scriptwriting is terrible. It explains why I’ve rarely stepped into a cinema in the last few years. Paying high prices for the privilege of a two-hour assault on my visual and auditory senses (and sometimes olfactory if another patron bathed in scent instead of actually washing), just doesn’t appeal anymore. I now wait until movies make it to Netflix, or in some cases, buy the DVD once it’s been discounted.

Case in point: last night, my wife and I watched the latest Star Wars installment for the first time. I wasn’t particularly interested after reading the reviews, but she wanted to see what it was all about and since it was on Netflix, all I had to lose was two hours of my Saturday evening.

When Star Wars Episode IV first came out in 1977, it left the teenaged me with a sense of wonder and awe. The Empire Strikes Back did the same, and I remember Return of the Jedi with fondness, notwithstanding the Ewoks. The less said about the three prequel movies, the better, although I did enjoy the final scenes in Revenge of the Sith when Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, and of course, Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine was a treat to watch throughout. He was probably the best thing about the prequels.

What can I say about The Force Awakens? It had none of the charms of the originals, although it felt more authentic than the three prequels. I suppose feeling wonder and awe at my age is a sensation harder to come by, though I’m still charmed by the originals when I watch them. It was fun to see Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke and Leia again, the thirty plus years since we last saw them etched on their faces, just as the years are etched on mine. The visuals were well done, especially when it came to those that harkened back to the original movies. The Force Awakens is peppered with sly and not so sly references. But sadly, I found myself mocking a lot of the film.

Plot holes big enough to fly a Death Star through? Check. Nonsensical behavior by central characters (I’m talking to you, Kylo Ren)? Check. Characters who do things they shouldn’t be able to do? Check. No actual science in the fiction? Check. I know you’re supposed to suspend your disbelief, but the writers need to help me a little with that. In The Force Awakens, they pretty much failed. Granted, a dear old great-uncle of mine, now long gone, called Star Wars (the original) a modern fairytale, and he was right. Star Wars isn’t really science fiction, it’s fantasy in space. But even so, the latest installment failed to generate that sense of wonder and left both my wife and me shaking our heads at more than a few parts.

However, I have to wonder whether I’m judging the latest Star Wars harshly because it has, at least to my eyes, a multitude of massive flaws in the plot and characters, or because I’ve become overly critical as a byproduct of my turning to writing as my main occupation, or because the passage of time makes the originals seem that much better. Or perhaps it’s all three, or even for reasons I’ve yet to articulate.  And it saddens me to some extent.

The movie has been critically acclaimed, made oodles of money and I know plenty of people who absolutely loved it. In a sense, I envy them and wish I wasn’t the odd man out. Part of me desperately wanted to immerse itself in the story and revel in a return to that galaxy far, far away. But watching Kylo Ren’s childish temper tantrums – Darth Vader would have been appalled – watching Rey do things no teenaged scavenger should be able to do and especially watching a superweapon the size of a planet suck in an entire star to power it, not to mention Han Solo’s pointless death? Sorry. Those things just knocked me out of the story and killed it for me. I need a modicum of believability nowadays, some science in the fiction and some sense to the characters, their behavior, and their motivation.

Of course, the above is merely my opinion, and I always try to keep in mind Dirty Harry Callahan’s immortal words concerning opinions. I’ll watch the sequels once they hit Netflix in the next few years and hope they reignite my love for Star Wars.  I might even re-watch The Force Awakens at some point and see if it wasn’t just a matter of my feeling overly cynical last night.

In the meantime, the little ironies of life march on, seeing as how my editor is doing to Howling Stars what I did to The Force Awakens last night, and I’m trying to write a sci-fi cop story with three-dimensional characters and no plot holes, which is harder than you might think.